Does Jesus Want Us to Be Religious?
(by Rev. Mark Gilbert)
Religious practices are common throughout history across all human cultures. From Hindu food offerings, Buddhist prayer wheels, the Islamic Hajj, The Jewish Passover, Animistic animal sacrifice, and the Eucharist. Even atheists are almost religious in their devotion to material goods like their iPhone or their car. The practice of religion gives us a sense of physical connection with something bigger than us, with God, which is something all humans long for. As Augustine famously said in his Confessions,
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”
However have you ever stopped to think about what Jesus thought about religious practices?
Jesus was born a Jew and … was obliged by God’s law to practice a number of important religious actions … circumcised … bound by various food laws and cleansing rituals … celebrated the Passover … other Jewish festivals … obeyed the Sabbath laws … you might think that Jesus thought very highly of these religious practices
Jesus was born a Jew and as a Jew he was obliged by God’s law to practice a number of important religious actions. He was circumcised on the eighth day, he was bound by various food laws and cleansing rituals, he celebrated the Passover many times as well as other Jewish festivals like the festivals of tabernacles and the festival of weeks. He also obeyed the Sabbath laws and undertook a relatively new practice – Baptism. On the surface you might think that Jesus thought very highly of these religious practices and wanted his followers to practice them diligently. However this is the opposite of what Jesus taught.
The wedding in Cana was the context for Jesus first miracle recorded by John. John didn’t use the word miracle to describe Jesus’ supernatural actions, he used the word sign. He used the word sign because the miracles were done as signs to point to Jesus identity as the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).
So how did the wedding at Cana point to Jesus identity? The first clue comes when the vessels containing the water Jesus turns into wine are described. They are, “the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing” (John 2:6). They were large – each holding 20-30 gallons – over 100 litres each – and there were 6 of them! That’s a lot of water because the Jews needed lots of water to perform their elaborate washing rituals. Jesus takes that water and turns it into the wine of a wedding feast. As the Christ, Jesus has come to bring us into such a wonderful relationship with God that it will be like a wedding feast compared to the tedious religious washing rituals the Jews were required to do.
One of the next signs Jesus does in John’s Gospel is to heal an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus does this on the Sabbath and some Jews go on to claim that Jesus is not a legitimate teacher because his action breaks the Jewish Sabbath laws which prohibit work on the Sabbath. Jesus, however points out that the Jews circumcise children on the Sabbath (John 7:21-24). Circumcision was a religious practice given to the Jews by God through Abraham. The idea that lay behind circumcision was that Jewish boys could have a part of their body cut off instead of being completely cut off from God’s promises because of Abraham’s failure to trust God (Genesis 17:1-14). Circumcision was a way for sinful Jewish people to be cleansed and included in God’s people.
However circumcision only dealt with a part of the body. In contrast the healing Jesus offered was for the whole body. So Jesus asks –why were the Jews getting upset with Him for healing the whole person on a Sabbath when they were doing only part of the job when they circumcised on the Sabbath? Just like the wine at Cana, Jesus takes a painful religious ritual that only did part of the job and replaces it with complete healing without the requirement for circumcision!
Of course Jesus’ last and greatest sign is his death. In the final moments before Jesus dies Luke gives us a clear picture, in his Gospel, of how to relate to God properly and it doesn’t involve any religious rituals (Luke 23:32-43). As Jesus dies Luke records two themes repeatedly.
The first theme is King. Jesus dies with a sign above his head – “This is the King of the Jews”. These words weren’t meant to glorify Jesus – they were a taunt to the Jews. The Romans who were the occupying forces in Palestine at the time were saying to the Jews, “If this is the best king you can muster – we’ve just crucified him!” The crowds also taunted Jesus, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the King of the Jews, the Chosen one”. The word Christ is the Jewish word for King. The soldiers also mock him, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”, and finally one of the two criminals dying next to Jesus says, “Aren’t you the Christ, save yourself and us!” As Jesus dies no one believes that Jesus is the King he promises to be.
The second theme Luke records at Jesus death is Saviour. Everyone expects that if Jesus is this great king he will be able to save himself and others because this is what he promised to do. The bitter irony in this passage is that Jesus, by not saving himself but instead dying to pay for our sins is actually offering the possibility of salvation to everyone who taunts him!
This criminal does three things … he recognises that he is guilty for his sin … he recognises Jesus is God’s rightful King … he asks Jesus to save him. No Baptism, no Eucharist … Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!”
There is one man in this dark scene that gets it right – one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus. He says to the other criminal who is mocking Jesus, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This criminal does three things – none of them particularly religious. Firstly he recognises that he is guilty for his sin and is getting the punishment he deserves, secondly he recognises Jesus is God’s rightful King and thirdly he asks Jesus to save him. No Baptism, no Eucharist. This is how Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!”
Mark in his Gospel finally shows us that Jesus death represents the death of religion as a way of relating to God.
In the Jewish temple a curtain separated people from the presence of God and no one was able to go through this curtain because no one was pure enough to approach God. However once a year the High priest could enter but only after an elaborate series of cleansing rituals and only with a rope tied around his waist in case he died after he went through the curtain – because if that happened no one would be able to go in and retrieve the body (Leviticus 16). This was to teach the Jews about the purity of God and their inability to be close to God because of their sin. The religious acts of circumcision, elaborate washing rituals, sacrifices were all necessary to get close to God, but even then a curtain separated people from God.
Jesus died, paying for our sins once and forever … From this point in history onwards religious rituals were no longer needed to deal with our sin … if we like the criminal; admit our guilt, believe Jesus is God’s King, and ask him to save us.
Mark records that when Jesus died, paying for our sins once and forever, this curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). From this point in history onwards religious rituals were no longer needed to deal with our sin so we could relate to God. Jesus death gives us open access to the Father and entry into paradise if we like the criminal; admit our guilt, believe Jesus is God’s King, and ask him to save us.
Testimony from Charis Jackson
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Bilbo Baggins to his nephew Frodo Baggins, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Normally, the first month of a new year is spent creating New Year’s Resolutions and working toward being healthier, more productive, spending more time with our families, being more creative, being more positive, etc etc. The goal we seem to aim for is to ultimately: be a better person.
But this year, I’m not buying into the mentality.
Instead, I’m choosing to put my focus back where it should be. On God.
I’m a missionary, so this shouldn’t be hard, right? But, I’m also a filmmaker and writer and an aspiring actress. Finding room for God can sometimes be difficult. Especially, when I come home at the end of a long day and just want to curl up on the couch and watch a movie or read a good book. Or sleep!
One of the reasons I’m passing on making a list of resolutions is because I often create an unrealistic goal for myself: learn ten new languages, take lessons in modern dance, ballet, jazz and hiphop, go to acting classes and take voice lessons, read 100 books in a year, write six novels, make twelve movies. Produce seven plays.
These are all good things, but in my hype and determination I shoot for the moon and don’t even end up in the stars.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for your dreams. Write the resolutions if it inspires you, but remember what’s most important.
All my life, I’ve been told the ‘Big Story’ God had for me would be impossible without him. It made me feel important to God that he wanted to keep me so close and give me such a huge story.
I was going to star in an epic!
Then life happened. The journey started. The road got bumpy and I wished I’d listened a bit more to Bilbo Baggins who warned Frodo to keep his feet, because there really is no knowing where you might be swept off to.
What I realized is, when my focus was on the New Year’s Resolutions I thought making the list was half-way to living that life and not only the start. I wanted it now as so many of us in the microwave generation do. So when it was harder and took longer, or even when I failed I let guilt take over.
My focus was on the impossible goal.
Not where it should be.
That’s why this year, I’m taking a different approach. I’m not making the list of resolutions because I know if I fix my focus on God and getting to know him more I’ll actually reach better goals and become a, truly, healthier person.
It’ll happen by osmosis. Not because I don’t still try to go for my goals, but because I will see all my goals through a filter of love and truth. I can still shoot for the moon and instead of only landing among the stars, I’ll pass this galaxy and go to the next.
Do you understand what I mean? I’m not saying I’ll get my goal or even reach it. I’m saying I’ll discover the better thing. The richer life.
When God told me I was to pursue acting and filmmaking, I thought that meant going to Hollywood. I thought he’d help me get my own star on the Walk of Fame.
I could see myself kneeling on the pavement and pressing my hands into the soft cement, with a crowd of fans and paparazzi taking my picture. And like most kids, I’d stand in front of my mirror, hold a Barbi or my hairbrush and thank the Academy again for my fourth consecutive Oscar for Best Actress.
And then God told me to move to Australia. I thought maybe it was just a detour on the way to Tinseltown. A blip, so to speak.
But, that ‘detour’ has lasted almost nine years.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized this wasn’t the blip. This was the ‘Big Story’ God had for me and I needed to stop seeing it as temporary.
It was then I looked back on the journey so far and saw how much more rich my life was. No, I didn’t have my own star on the Walk of Fame, but I had a family of filmmakers who I could trust and do life with. I was living as a filmmaker and actress and writer.
Not aspiring anymore, but doing it. Living it.
And when I looked closer, I realized time and time again, all the films I’d worked on, all the stories I’d gotten to write had one thing in common. They came about when I stopped striving to be a better person and when I focused in on loving God and getting to know this amazing and mysterious being who liked to create as much, and even more, than I did.
He brought them into my life.
When we put our focus in the right place, on God, there’s more freedom for him to create the ‘BIG Story’ in our lives, the epic adventures.
It actually makes me see Bilbo’s comment in another light, like he was excited to tell Frodo to watch where his feet took him. Because with God, there really is no knowing where you might be swept off to. It’s all part of the ‘Big Story’ God wants to tell with our lives and it can only happen if our focus is fixed on him.
It was a new revelation and I want to dive in head first.
Charis Joy Jackson is working as a full-time missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) a non-profit organization in Queensland. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel.
Charis Joy Jackson’s previous articles may be viewed at pressserviceinternational.org/charis-jackson.html
Permission given to publish this story from Dr Mark Tronson bushorchestra.com
How to Plead for Unbelievers
(Devotional by John Piper – desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-plead-for-unbelievers)
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)
Paul prays that God would convert Israel. He prays for her salvation! He does not pray for ineffectual influences, but for effectual influences. And that is how we should pray too.
We should take the new covenant promises of God and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and our neighbours and on all the mission fields of the world.
God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give them a new heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
Circumcise their heart so that they love you! (Deuteronomy 30:6)
“Father, put your Spirit within them and cause them to walk in your statutes.” (Ezekiel 36:27)
Grant them repentance and a knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25–26)
Open their hearts so that they believe the gospel! (Acts 16:14)
When we believe in the sovereignty of God — in the right and power of God to elect and then bring hardened sinners to faith and salvation — then we will be able to pray with no inconsistency, and with the confidence of great biblical promises for the conversion of the lost.
Thus, God has pleasure in this kind of praying because it ascribes to him the right and honour to be the free and sovereign God that he is in election and salvation.
Jesus is God
As true Christians we believe that: Jesus IS the Way to Heaven.
In the Gospel of John 14:6, Jesus declares: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why is it important to know that NO other religious leaders throughout history have ever made these claims? According to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” How does this contrast with other world religions which are based on works versus faith in Jesus and the resurrection? If we can’t build a relationship with God by doing good deeds or repeating rituals, what must we do? The Apostle Peter in Acts 4:12 is clear; “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
According to John 1:1-3, Jesus existed from the beginning. From the beginning, Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Here, the Bible establishes the inseparable nature of Jesus and the God of the Universe. The following verses provide further evidence that Jesus is 100% God.
Highlights of Christ’s Time on Earth and the verses from the Bible:
- Miracles: Luke 7:22
- Eyewitnesses to His perfect life: Matthew 16:13-17
- Fulfilment of Prophecy: Matthew 13:14, Luke 24:44
- Jesus’ own identification/claim: John 10:30-38, Matthew 16:13-17, Mark 14:61-64
- Claims of Christ’s followers: Hebrews 1:8, Colossians 1:16, John 12:40 (quoting Isaiah 6:1-10)
- Resurrection: Luke 24:39, Mark 8:31, Acts 17:32
Jesus is the key to membership in God’s family. When He established His deity by rising from the grave, He made it possible for us to have forgiveness from sin and a renewed relationship with God.
Jesus is our Saviour
- Almighty One – “…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8.
- Alpha and Omega – “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:13.
- Advocate – “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” 1 John 2:1.
- Author and Perfecter of Our Faith – “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2.
- Authority – “Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18.
- Bread of Life – “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35.
- Beloved Son of God – “And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17.
- Bridegroom – “And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matthew 9:15.
- Healer – “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5.
- Chief Cornerstone – “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.” Psalm 118:22.
- Deliverer – “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
- Good Shepherd – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11.
- Great High Priest – “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” Hebrews 4:14.
- Head of the Church – “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Ephesians 1:22.
- I Am – “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58.
- Immanuel – “…She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Isiah 7:14.
- Judge – “…he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42.
- King of Kings – “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14.
- Lamb of God – “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” John 1:29.
- Light of the World – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.
- Lion of the Tribe of Judah – “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5.
- Lord of All – “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11.
- Mediator – “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5.
- Messiah – “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).” John 1:41.
- Mighty One – “Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Isiah 60:16.
- Our Hope – “…Christ Jesus our hope.” 1 Timothy 1:1.
- Our Peace – “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” Ephesians 2:14.
- Prophet – “And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Mark 6:4.
- Redeemer – “And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” Job 19:25.
- Risen Lord – “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
- Saviour – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11.
- Son of Man – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10.
- Son of the Most High – “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” Luke 1:32.
- Supreme Creator Over All – “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…” 1 Corinthians 1:16-17.
- Resurrection and the Life – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25.
- The Way – “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.
- True Vine – “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1.
- Truth – “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32.
- Victorious One – “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21.
Jesus summarised the true meaning of religion in Matthew 22:37-40, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Mediate on These Verses from John 16
Let us read a few verses from John 16:
8-11 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
Pray for Religions and Philosophies across the World and in Your Community
Please pray for some common religious views and faith that people hold:
- Bahá’í Faith
- New Age
Look at information and census data for your area and pray for these religious and philosophical groups and communities there. Pray all leaders and members receive a revelation of Jesus and who He is; to come to Him in repentance and ask Him for salvation.
Pray for the Salvation of the World
Father, hear our prayers for the salvation of the world.
Grant Mercy to all souls that turned away from You.
Open their hearts and minds with Your light.
Gather Your children from the east and the west, from the north and the south.
Have mercy O God on those who do not know You.
Bring them out of darkness into Your light.
You are our saving God Who leads us in our salvation. Protect us from evil.
Bless and praise You O Lord, hear our prayers and answer us.
You, our Savior, are the hope of all the ends of the Earth and the distant seas.
May Your way be known upon Earth; among all nations Your salvation.
We put the world in Your hands; fill us with Your love.
Grant us peace through Christ, our Lord.